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The Common Principles of the Sufi Way


By Kaniz Fatma, New Age Islam

06 March 2018

If there is one thing that distinguishes Sufis, it is their sense of high morality. They are known for their love for humanity. They take exceptional care not to hurt anyone’s feelings. They are not limited only to certain religious dogmas. They aim at attaining the pleasure of Allah Almighty in its true essence. They follow certain principles which can be summarized as follows;

The Sufi way may be encapsulated into five main common principles: (1) being suffused with the fear and consciousness of Allah [Taqwa] both in private and public life, (2) willing obedience to the Sunna in words and deeds, (3) indifferent to others’ acceptance or rejection, (4) an attitude of gratitude to Allah the Most High in scarcity and plenty, and (5) turning to Allah alone in happiness and affliction.

(1)      Fear and consciousness of Allah [Taqwa] are attained by devoutness and uprightness. Allah Almighty says, “Surely the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is he who is most God-fearing”. (49:13). It is reported that the fear of God is the quintessence of all good things. The true reality of fear of Allah consists of protecting oneself from the punishment of God through obedience to Him. Ibn ‘Ata’ said, “Fear of Allah has two sides: outward and inward. Its outward side is the observance of [God’s] boundaries. Its inward side is pure intention and sincerity. (Risala Qushayria)

(2)      Obedience to the Sunna is attained through caution and good character. In the Quran, Allah Almighty reveals, “You have an excellent model in the Messenger of Allah, for all who put their hope in Allah and the Last Day and remember Allah much”. (33:21). He Almighty also says, “You should accept whatever the Messenger gives you and abandon whatever he tells you to abandon. Have Taqwa of Allah...” (59:7)

(3)      The attribute of being indifferent to others’ acceptance or rejection is attained through patience and trust in Allah. Even when all doors appear to have been closed, we believers should never succumb to feelings of helplessness. Allah Almighty says, “If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (alone) let believers put their trust” (3:160). It is also reported that “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although both are good. Strive to do that which will benefit you and seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless…..”(Sahih Muslim) 

(4)      The attitude of expressing gratitude to Allah is developed through contentment with what one has and submission to the will of Allah. Contentment is one of the most important prerequisites for happiness in life. However many of us are bereft of such a good virtue. We own a good car that meets our requirements, but we always look for a nicer and more expensive one. We own a nice house, but we always look for a bigger, fancier and more expensive one. We want more jewellery, more clothes. We always think about more and more rather than expressing thankfulness to Allah (Alhamdulillah) for what He has already granted us. In this regard, it is reported that the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “Remember death repeatedly. This will save you from longing for the worldly pleasures. Show gratitude frequently and this will increase the graces upon you. Pray to Allah Almighty so recurrently, because you do not know in which time Allah will respond to your prayer. Beware of tyranny, for Allah has ordained that He will support those who are oppressed.”

(5)      The attribute of turning to Allah alone in happiness and affliction is attained by expressing gratitude to Him in happiness and taking refuge in Him, when in affliction. Allah Almighty says, “If you are grateful, He is pleased with you...” (39:7). He also says, “Then remember Me; I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject Me” (2:152). Allah says, “Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere.” (2:153)

The Principles of all these attributes are built on five things: (1) high aspiration, (2) keeping Allah’s reverence, (3) performing the best service, (4) keeping one’s spiritual resolutions, and (5) esteeming Allah’s blessings.

In his book “al-Maqasid” Imam Nawawi writes,

 (1) Whoever’s aspiration is high, his rank rises;

(2) Whoever reveres Allah, Allah maintains his respect;

(3) Whoever’s service is good is necessarily shown generosity;

(4) Whoever keeps his spiritual resolutions continues to have guidance;

(5) Whoever esteems Allah’s blessings will be grateful for them, and whoever is grateful for them will necessarily see them increased.

The Rules of the Mystical Signs 

The rules of mystical signs on a person, as Imam Nawawi writes, are also five: (1) seeking Sacred Knowledge in order to perform Allah’s command; (2) keeping the company of sheikhs and fellow disciples in order to see with insight; (3) forgoing both dispensations from religious obligations and figurative interpretations of scripture, for the sake of cautiousness; (4) organizing one’s time with spiritual works to maintain presence of heart; and (5) suspecting the self in all matters, in order to free oneself from caprice and be safe from destruction.

(1) Seeking Sacred Knowledge is vitiated by keeping the company of juveniles, whether in age, mentality, or religion, who do not refer for guidance to a firm principle or rule;

 (2) Keeping the company of sheikhs and disciples is vitiated by self-deception and concern with the unimportant;

(3) Leaving dispensations and figurative interpretations is vitiated by leniency toward the self;

(4) Organizing one’s time with spiritual works is vitiated by looking for more and more supererogatory worship;

(5) Suspecting the self is vitiated by satisfaction at its goodliness and uprightness.

To attain the aforementioned signs of Sufism, it is first required to cure the ego. Therefore, Imam Nawai says, “The principles of curing the ego are also five: (1) lightening the stomach by diminishing one’s food and drink; (2) taking refuge in Allah Most High from the unforeseen when it befalls; (3) shunning situations involving what one fears to fall victim to; (4) continually asking Allah’s forgiveness (Istighfar) and His blessings upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) night and day with full presence of mind; and (5) keeping the company of him who guides one to Allah.”

After recognizing the mystical signs and curing the ego, one should try to reach Allah. But what does “reaching Allah” mean? This is well-explained by Imam Nawawi as follows;

One can reach Allah Almighty by (1) repenting from all things unlawful or offensive; (2) seeking Sacred Knowledge in the amount needed; (3) continually keeping on ritual purity; (4) performing the prescribed prayers at the first of their times in a group prayer (and praying the confirmed Sunnas associated with them); (5) always performing eight rak‘as of the non-obligatory midmorning prayer (al-Duha), the six Rakas between the sunset (maghrib) and nightfall (Isha) prayers, the night vigil prayer (Tahajjud) after having risen from sleeping, and the Witr prayer; (6) fasting Mondays and Thursdays, and the “full moon [lit. “white”] days” (n: the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth of each lunar month), as well as the days of the year that are meritorious to fast; (7) reciting the Qur’an with presence of heart and reflecting on its meanings; (8) asking much for Allah’s forgiveness (Istighfar); (9) always invoking the Blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); and (10) persevering in the Dhikrs that are Sunna in the morning and evening.

(Imam Nawawi; Al-Maqasid p. 96, tr. by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Amana Publications)

The take-home message of this article is that when a man spiritually succeeds in reaching Allah Almighty, he becomes a Sufi and thus a man of good manners, a man of high morality, a man of tolerance and a man of soft heart.  


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